September 2, 2013
by Akihiko Sato, Masayoshi Seki, Ayaho Takaoka
Ayataka is a Japanese tea company affiliated with the Coca-cola corporation. Ayataka was first came on the market in 2007, when Kanbayashi Shunsho Honten – a traditional Kyoto-based tea company – and Coca-cola came together in collaboration. Ayataka’s aim is to produce bottled tea just like it came straight from the teapot, with sediment and all.
The name ‘ayataka’ has a special meaning. ‘Aya’ means to incorporate tea leaf quality. ‘Taka’ refers to the symbol of noble presence and precious tea. Ayataka uses gougumi, a process of mixing together high quality green tea leaves based on the skill and technology of Kanbayashi Shunsho Honten. Through the gougumi process, Kanbayashi Shunsho Honten and Coca-cola are able to ensure the quality of the tea leaves to be used and the excellent flavor of tea to be produced.
Kanbayashi Shunsho Honten
Kanbayashi Shunsho Honten has been in business for more than 450 years. It sold its tea mostly in department stores back in the old days. However, its teas were very expensive. For this reason, Kanbayashi Shunsho Honten never became well known throughout Japan.
We paid a visit to the Kanbayashi Shunsho Honten in Kyoto recently. There we heard a talk about Ayataka and Kanbayashi Shunsho Honten from the person in charge of information. They said, “We want everyone to enjoy the real taste of quality green tea. Giving our customers delicious tea is the most important thing we do.”
To make a delicious tea, paying attention to both appearance and fragrance is especially important. In order to do so, the company members use all their senses when making the tea to provide customers with the best, most authentic taste. This, they said, is the most important thing.
What is Gomotsu Chashi? They are simply tea masters who have been around since the medieval period. They worked for the family of the shogun, worked with tea from the Uji region of south Kyoto, and created a very high quality tea. They created many rules for drinking green tea. At the peak of their activity, the Gomotsu Chashi consisted of about 30 families, but since then there have been 13 or 14 families on the decline. The Kanbayashi family was the strongest of these families. They worked for the shogun and the Emperor in Kyoto. The Kanbayashi family was, in fact, put in charge of all Gomotsu Chashi by the bakuhu, or Japanese Government in the Edo period.
Ayataka – Consistently Cloudy
The best thing about Ayataka tea is the way it is made with powdered green tea from one of the most famous tea regions in Japan: Uji. Uji is in the south part of Kyoto City. Ayataka is made from a high quality type of green tea grown in Uji, called tencha. The tencha leaves are first selected based on their shape, color, and fragrance. Then they are ground into a fine powder using a stone mill. After that, it is time to brew the tea. First the temperature and volume of the water is prepared. Then as the tea is brewing, a sediment specialist steps in the measure the cloudiness of the tea. This is a very important step, for Ayataka is famous for its cloudiness. Achieving the right level of cloudiness may sound easy, but it isn’t. In the early days, getting the cloudiness level just right was a big challenge. But after much trial and error, Ayataka has perfected its cloudiness level. The suspended sediment from powdered green tea is Ayataka’ most charming characteristic.
How to Drink Ayataka Green Tea
Now that you know a little about powdered green tea, do you know how to drink it in the traditional way? Well, the problem is, Ayataka comes in a plastic bottle. Traditionally there was no plastic! Nevertheless, its creators have ensured that the tea inside is cloudy and delicious, just like the real thing.
The first thing to do is pour the tea into a proper Japanese teacup. Then, straighten your back and use your right hand to pick up the teacup. Next place the cup in your upturned left hand while keeping your right hand on the outer side of the teacup, facing away from you. Then, using your right hand, make two turns in a clockwise direction. Now you are ready to drink it. While drinking, make a slurping noise as you inhale air while drinking the tea. Then put down the teacup and bow to the host (or the person who poured your tea). If you can learn to drink tea in this way, then you have mastered the art of drinking Japanese tea.
Interview with Kanbayashi Shunsho Honten
On our visit to Kanbayashi Shunsho Honten, we asked our guide the following four questions:
1. What is the most important point in the manufacture of Ayataka green tea product?
We are very careful in the way we mix the ingredients and in our manufacturing methods.
2. In recent years, tea gardens have been on the decline in the Uji region. What is your company doing about this?
It is true that the quantity of tea produced in Uji is on the decline. For this reason, we are both stocking up on tea leaves and buying from other areas in Japan, not just tea from Uji.
3. People prefer to be healthier all around the world. Do you have any solution?
No. We just mixed three types of tea together: macha, sencha and tencha. We think it is delicious.
4. In the future, what do you think the demand for green tea products will be?
We will probably only sell our tea domestically, not abroad.
Kanbayashi Shunsho Honten – This is the head office of the Kanbayashi Shunsho company. There we can watch an informative video about Kanbayashi and walk around the factory. We can also learn how to make Japanese green tea by machine. It is well worth a visit.
OPEN 10:00 – 14:00
Uji Kanbayashi Kinenkan – This is a memorial museum about tea from the Uji region and the Kanbayashi family. There are many vases and Japanese tea cups on display.
OPEN – 10:00 – 16:00
CLOSED – FRIDAY